By Royal Calkins
Last fall, the Monterey Peninsula Republican Women Federated made the mistake of playing host to Joe Arpaio, the overtly racist former sheriff of Maricopa County, who is also a criminal pardoned by the like-minded Donald Trump. His luncheon speech in Carmel Valley drew significant protest but apparently did not embarrass the women’s club. Their speaker for their spring Reagan Gala dinner later this month is in many ways a polished, more articulate version of Arpaio but someone not as well known and therefore not likely to generate nearly as much of a reaction.
The speaker this time is syndicated columnist Victor Davis Hanson, a retired professor of classics, a war
historian who enjoys a senior fellowship at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, who proudly lives part-time on a Fresno County farm, and who also enjoys dismissing many of those who disagree with him as “coastal elites.” If you are reading this, you are likely one of those.
To Hanson’s well-educated mind, immigrants from anywhere south of Mexico are destroying “our” culture while progressives are attempting to hijack our democracy. He is a smart fellow and a good writer, so when he writes about the declining conditions immigrants have created in the cities and even in his own rural neighborhood, he carefully avoids mentioning their ethnicities in the paragraphs of complaint. Often he pretends his concerns are actually environmental, not ethnocentric.
Hanson is not as well known as other conservative columnists such as George Will or Thomas Sowell though he has experienced flurries of special attention. Once was when he was pronounced as George W. Bush’s favorite neocon, primarily because of his misguided support for Bush’s misguided attacks on Iraq. Bush awarded him a medal. And Hanson is currently enjoying another run of publicity because of his recent book, also misguided, “The Case for Trump.”
I must confess that I have not read the book. Even when it occurred to me that I might write a column like this one, I couldn’t subject myself to it. I already feel as though I am receiving daily beatings from Trump and those who profit from his presidency. If I did buy the book, I fear I could not finish it.
I have, however, read several reviews of the book, some positive, and I knew early on that Hanson is wise enough not to overlook Trump’s flaws. Partisanship has not covered both his eyes completely.
“Trump,” Hanson writes in the book, “likely will end in one of two fashions, both not particularly good: either spectacular but unacknowledged accomplishments followed by ostracism when he is out of office and no longer useful, or, less likely, a single term due to the eventual embarrassment of his beneficiaries, as if his utility is no longer worth the wages of his perceived crudity.”
Despite that proof that he isn’t truly a fool, Hanson lauds the president for various successes, most notably his improbable election victory but also a couple of things that he arguably has had little to do with, the low unemployment rate and the vigorous economy.
Other examples of Trump’s great accomplishments, in Hanson’s view, include his conservative court appointments, the moving of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and, as reviewer Michael Doran wrote in the National Review, “the recalibration in trade relations with China … and the restoring of American deterrence against Russia and China.”
If that’s all he can come up with, I would argue that Hanson needs a new name for the book. Maybe “The Case for Biden or Warren or Sanders.”
I must make another confession. I have been taking potshots at Hanson for several years now, for reasons that include my disdain for the conclusions he reaches in his columns, the thinly veiled racism evident in his endless attacks on affirmative action and the concept of diversity as a positive force, and my familiarity with his roots.
I met Hanson a couple times while I was working as a reporter in Fresno and he was lecturing on Greek and Roman history at Fresno State University. Oddly enough, we had mutual friends, and I always suspected — though I have no evidence — that Hanson felt that teaching at Fresno State was beneath him and that a person or persons of a different gender or color had beaten him out of a job at somewhere more to his taste, maybe even somewhere with more coastal elites. That may not be so, but for some reason he devoted a remarkable portion of his writing career to warning the world about the degradation occurring in academia because of the push for a diverse faculty.
An argument can be made that there have been times when a teaching candidate other than a white male was hired over a white male who looked better on paper. Hanson has made that case relentlessly for decades now, but I have never seen him give even a cursory nod to the notion that a faculty made up of different kinds of people could have an upside. Throughout his writings, he dismisses “diversity” and “progressivism,” the concepts and even the words themselves, as evil forces undermining the world as we know it.
One of Hanson’s most disturbing columns was his lengthy complaint about how the Los Angeles airport, especially the concourse housing Mexican airlines, was looking depressing, almost Third-World. I can’t find the column now but I think that what bothered him most was a fellow with a chicken in a cage, apparently appropriate for a bus, but not a plane.
Among his very worst, most Arpaio-esque columns was this one from last August in which he complained how the neighborhood has deteriorated since immigrants from south of the border started replacing immigrants from better places.
“Almost every old farmstead in my vicinity is no longer just a home for a single farm family. They are often now surrounded by trailers and lean-tos, in turn sub-rented out to dozens of others — violations of zoning laws and building codes of the sort that would earn me a stiff fine, but which are of little interest to local authorities. Of three neighboring farmsteads down the road, one is now a storage area for dozens of used porta-potties and wrecked cars. Another is an illegal dumping ground. The third has been raided on various occasions by authorities in order to stop drug dealing, gang activity, and prostitution.”
It doesn’t get any better.
In a February interview, headlined “The Classicist Who Sees Donald Trump As A Tragic Hero,” New Yorker magazine staffer Isaac Chotiner told Hanson, “You don’t have much to say about child separation, the ban on certain Muslims, Charlottesville — the more controversial aspects of his Presidency. Are these nicks on a glorious record, or are they actually accomplishments?”
Hanson replied: “I look at everything empirically. I know what the left said, and the media said, but I ask myself, ‘What actually happened?’ There are a billion Muslims in the world, and he has, I think, six countries who were not able to substantiate that their passports were vetted. We didn’t even, in the final calibration, base it on religion. I think we have two countries that are not predominantly Muslim.”
Child separation? Not worthy of comment, apparently.
I have written about Hanson before, so I apologize to the few who may have heard this before, but part of my disdain for Hanson stems from my protracted acquaintance with his lovely
mother. Long gone now, Pauline Hanson was an appellate court justice in Fresno, appointed to the bench in the 1960s by Gov. Edmund Brown. Relatively few women make it onto the appellate bench. Hanson’s appointment in that time and place was remarkable, and she was remarkable as well.
I dealt with Justice Hanson primarily at monthly meetings attended by representatives of the bench, the bar and the media in the Fresno area. Hence the catchy name for the event, “Bench Bar Media.”
The meetings amounted to venting about why some judges wouldn’t allow cameras in the courtroom, why many reporters really didn’t understand how the legal system worked, and why lawyers should sometimes let their clients talk to the press. There was a fair amount of argument, but always there was Justice Hanson to cut through the acrimony with a story about how she or someone else had found compromise or some better method and, lo and behold, it applied fully to the topic at hand.
She was charming and … wait for it … liberal. She was a classic Democrat in the mold of a Walter Mondale or a young Kennedy and so, it seemed, was her husband, Bill, a lifelong farmer whose bequest of the property to his boy enabled Victor Hanson to make the case that his opinion is especially worthy because he has had some dirt under his fingernails.
I don’t know if Pauline Hanson had any hand in shaping her son’s dark thoughts or if he might have become how he is out of rebellion. I would love to know.
Hanson writes as often as he can get away with it that he lives on the family farm outside Selma, near Fresno, and mixes daily with the people Trump supposedly cares about. I find it significant, telling, that he seldom or never mentions his beach house in Aptos.
I also found it interesting that Hanson seems to see his childhood on the farm as a virtue, adding value to his writings, while failing to recognize the benefits of anyone else’s unique experiences outside the Ph.D. track.
Over the years, Hanson has responded to my potshots a couple of times, dismissively, and probably deservedly so. There was the time I was writing editorials for the Monterey Herald and criticized Hanson for his simplistic response to Warren Buffett’s call for an end to an income tax system that favors the rich. In his weekly column, Hanson declared without support that it was inappropriate for a newspaper editorial to take on a columnist. He advised his readers to “Note the unprofessional ad hominem tone, quite unbefitting a newspaper … . Such anonymous invective and cheap emotion in lieu of logical argumentation are simply beneath a reputable newspaper, and once again the Herald should know better and be ashamed.”
(In the same piece, Hanson made quite a big deal about that dirt under his fingernails. He wrote, “For the record, I live by choice in a rural area of the poorest quadrant of one of the poorest counties in the Central Valley of California, a world away from Monterey. My interest is not with the ‘rich,’ but jobs for the non-rich (unemployment in my home town hovers at 20%). I live with ‘the poor and the working class’ and their lot has gotten far worse since 2008 as jobs have disappeared and even generous state entitlements have now become unsustainable and are being cut back, as too many taxpayers flee the state and revenues nosedive. Whether George Soros, John Kerry, Al Gore, or Warren Buffett fly a little more quickly in their private jets than I do in coach, or whether their hot water comes out of designer faucets and mine does not, or whether their Mercedes or BMW is quieter than my quite adequate Honda concerns me not at all.”
He forgot, seemingly, that Aptos is much less than a world away from Monterey.
I must admit that if opinion writing were baseball, Hanson would be a pinch hitter or relief pitcher on a middling major league team while I would be a semi-retired third base coach for a rookie league team in North Dakota. Or maybe just a spectator. Hanson’s resumé crushes mine. But I did win our our periodic pissing match one time.
I can’t find a copy of his column or my response, but he produced a long piece a decade or more ago when he wrote with glee about what he considered to be the ridiculous course descriptions at our own CSU Monterey Bay.
He apparently had stumbled on a CSUMB catalog, perhaps while enjoying the faculty lounge at the Hoover Institute. He found the course names and descriptions to be frothy, politically correct and overblown, and he therefore dismissed the institution as unworthy. Again, I can’t find the columns but modern examples of the types of courses he belittled include such things as “Demystifying the Hipster” at Tufts, “The History of Surfing” at UC Santa Barbara and “The Amazing World of Bubbles” at Caltech.
I did two things in response.
I looked at the course catalogs for the two schools where Hanson did most of his teaching, Stanford and Fresno State, and found numerous similar examples. His bosses at Stanford or Bulldog University might not have appreciated similar columns about those fine institutions, so Hanson took an easier path.
Next, I found a column from about a decade earlier by George Will making precisely the same points about the courses at the very same school, CSU-Monterey Bay. Though he did not acknowledge the Wills column, it wasn’t a case of plagiarism. Hanson was relying on a much newer course catalog. But as far as I can tell, he never admitted to what amounts to a serious journalistic faux pas and, as far as I can remember, he never responded to my column on the subject.
I welcome Hanson to dismiss me again. My skin has gotten even thicker over the years here in the journalistic boondocks.. If he is annoyed or even disgusted with anything I’ve written, I’m fine with that.
For those of you who might want to attend, or watch who is going in and out, Hanson is scheduled to share his thoughts at the GOP group’s Reagan Dinner Gala, at 5:3o p.m. Friday May 17 at the Embassy Suites in Seaside. His announced topic “Decline to States and Independents — Come Back to the Party of Principles.”
Cost for dinner is $100. For dinner and the VIP reception, it’s $150. Which means that if you have an extra $50 to spend on such things, you’re a VIP.
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